Camping & Hiking

Starting a Fire With Sticks: All The Guidelines You Need To Know

Starting a Fire With Sticks

We all, at least once, saw our favorite actor all busy in starting a fire with sticks and wondered about how he/she can do it. Starting a fire can be something to do for fun while we are out camping with friends or family.

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Even more, this can be one of those skills that you can show to impress people around you.

Let’s introduce your situation

Nowadays we are used to living comfortably with a lot of devices and equipment which can do things that, once, we used to do with our bare hands. Due to the civilization process the human race started to forget skills and abilities that were once natural; things like fishing, hunting or starting a fire with sticks became, in the modern age, kind of rare.

Fire making with sticks

The ability to start a fire using basic and natural equipment can be useful in various situations. For example, you may be the last one alive after an apocalypse or end up isolated on a desert island but, mainly, it can be something quite helpful if you are planning an “old-style camp”. If you decide to try the thrill of an exciting night out (or even more than one) in touch with the wildlife the skill of making fire with sticks should surely be part of your knowledge.

How to do it

As we said, you decided to join this adventurous camp and didn’t bring with you any modern equipment but now the sky is getting darker and darker and you can clearly see the night coming. Well, now is the right time to start worrying about making your fire!

Making a stick for starting a fire

There are different ways and techniques that may help you in starting a fire without any modern devices. However, the most effective and famous is, for sure, the one arrived at us thanks to the Samoans populations. All the equipment you need can be, quite easily, found around you: a decently sharp rock to shape your wood and some soft dry wood.

The entire process can be completed in a few steps:

  1. From the selected piece of wood, you will need to cut a stick long enough to allow you to put both your hands around it. Ideally the perfect stick to start your fire should be around 4 inches thick so it won’t be too easy to break.
  2. You will need to use the other part of the wood as a base on which you will rub the stick keeping it inclined at 45°. Around the area of contact between the stick and the base, you will need to place some dry wood sticks that can easily catch fire or tinder.
  3. Now comes the important part: you will need to rub the stick against the base by moving it forward and back. The base should be steady while you work using not just your arms but, the movement of your shoulders and upper body.
  4. Pay attention, when you will see enough dust around your “rubbing area”, you should start to use a little more pressure and faster movements. When your pile start smoking on its own it means the fire is catching and that soon your work will be completed.

Now that the procedure of starting a fire with sticks is clear there are some aspects that should be understood. A fire can’t be simply started anywhere, it needs some special attentions.

When, where and essential tips

The right time

The first thing that you should consider before starting your fire is the time. Starting a fire with sticks takes some time so it is highly recommended to consider this aspect. Ideally, you will search and find all the needed wood and materials during daylight. To be successful in this task, you’ll need dry wood so, if you have some camping equipment, you can store the collected sticks inside your tent. Anyway, if you don’t have space to store the wood inside, a good alternative may be to find a big rock where to place the wood covered by a cloth.

Starting a fire during day

You will start to build and light your fire during the beginning of the sunset in order to be fully ready and operative when the night will come. Make sure to have enough wood to make your fire last all night (or as long as you need it to last).

The right place

Starting a fire with sticks can’t be done anywhere. To create the perfect place, you need to clear a ring pushing away any kind of leaves or vegetation. Next, you’ll need to dig the so-called fire pit, which should be several inches deep.

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Important tip: keep the dirt aside in order to be able to use it if you will need to stop the fire quickly due to an emergency.

Extremely important for your safety is to find some dry rocks to place all around your pit in order to isolate the fire and avoid unwanted flames. Check out our guidelines on campfire safety to protect you and your family.

Essential tips to avoid surprises

  • If you are an expert in camping and survival tips you may already know all you need in order to make a fire with sticks but in case you are a beginner there are a few basic info that you will need to keep in mind.
  • An extremely big fire is more difficult to keep going and to control and, in addition to this, produce less heat than many small ones.
  • Not all stones are good for your fire. While big dry stones are perfect for isolating your pit, soft stones if overheated can explode causing damages to things and people around the fire.
  • Different kinds of wood produce different effects. For example:
  • wet wood makes a lot of smoke (extremely helpful in keeping away animals and insects)
  • green wood burns very slowly
  • dry wood catches on fire and burns quickly
  • soft wood produces a lot more light than the hard one.

Safety tips and tricks

As we mentioned above, safety is an important element when it comes to camping and, in particular, to starting a fire. Every year, countless damages are produced by campfires that were not handled or put out in the right way. To understand all the risks related to this kind of activities you just need to take a quick look at statistics: almost 1.300.000 fires become un-controllable every year, almost 3.000 deaths a year are caused by fires out of control and other 17.500 people get injured.

Inhalation injuries

When you decide to start a fire you should be ready to control it in order to avoid damages to yourself, people around you and last but not least the environment.

See also: Smokeless Fire Tips: What, Why, How to Start

Remember that keeping a fire pit under control is not as easy as you see on movies and, it takes quite a lot of effort and constant attention.

Below there are some of the tips suggested directly from firefighters’ associations:

  • Make sure that the closest structure is at last 10 feet away (25 would be even better)
  • Watch out for low tree branches
  • Keep all flammables materials at a decent distance (the suggested distance is about 5 feet)
  • Remember to consider the wind’s direction before placing and lighting your fire
  • Don’t use any inflammable liquid (such as gasoline, lighter fluids and so on)
  • Always keep some water nearby for emergency

Even following all these guidelines, accidents can still happen and that’s why you should never leave the pit unattended or leave unattended kids or pets around the fire.

When your camping experience will be about to end, you will need to take care of putting out the fire. Many common beliefs about how to put out a fire are wrong and can be even dangerous in certain circumstances.

How to put out a fire safely

The first thing to do is let the wood burn. Once it will be completely burnt (and turned into ash) you will be able to slowly start pouring some water directly on the ashes. To accelerate the burning process of the wood you may use a shovel to poke it. Some popping or frizzing noises may arise from the ash while you pour water on it but these are completely normal.

Put out a fire safely

Make sure to soak all the ashes till the point that all noises will be over; it may be helpful to stir the ashes in order to mix them completely with water and wet materials.

After completing all these steps, make sure to wait a few minutes to see if the fire is completely out and eventually add some dirt to the ashes.

Note: it may be useful to “walk” on the covered pit to make sure that all the ashes are well covered and the warmth can’t rise to the surface.

Other methods to make fire with sticks

Now that you know how to make fire with sticks and how to control your pit, it may be interesting to consider other methods. The one that came to us from the Samoans is not the only possible way of starting a fire with sticks.

Friction Drill

Through the centuries and different lands, cultures and experiences, humanity developed various ways to start a fire with primitive equipment. Some of the most popular are described below:

  1. Two men friction (also known as string drill). One man applies pressure on the wooden stick keeping it pressed against the base while the other, using a string, applies a drill faster and usually more effective than the manual one. The main weakness of this method is the need for a string that is both strong and long enough and the need for 2 people.
  2. Friction Drill: pushing a stick against a base you will need two hands to produce friction while drilling it. Differently from what happens during the Samoans’ process you won’t need to move the stick. Instead, you will have to keep it steady while drilling it to produce the appropriate amount of friction.
  3. Bow Drill – a method born from the fusion of the two man drill method and the manual drill method (both described above). As with the manual drill method, you will need to keep the stick steady against the base, but you can perform this method on your own. There are a few elements in common with the two men friction, like the string and additional materials. You will obviously have to build the bow (or bring it from home) and in addition to this, you will have to find a socket to use to apply pressure on the stick.

These friction/drilling based methods are the most common ways to start a fire with sticks but obviously there are a lot of other possible ways to do it without a lighter. You can try it with a lens, with a battery, with hot metals and many other tricks.

Bow Drill

Camping may be an exciting experience to share with your family or friends, or sometimes even to experience on your own. Knowing how to start a nice fire with your bare hands is that little bonus that can make a moment like that unforgettable.

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Even if all this can be thrilling and sometimes even distracting, it’s important to do things after learning the theoretical knowledge. Thus you can avoid useless risks to yourself and your loved ones. Starting a fire without knowing what we are doing can damage us and others forever. Remember, the value of goods destroyed by fire on an annual basis is about 1.300 billion American dollars!

When you decide to get back in touch with your wild side, don’t forget to keep safety in mind. It doesn’t take long to pay some attention and avoid pointless risks: make sure to choose an appropriate camping site and to bring with you all the necessary emergency contacts to help yourself or less cautious people around you. Remember that even when it comes to camping activities, it is essential to assist everyone in need. Also, if you see people behaving irresponsibly around a fire pit, be sure to intervene and let them know about the risks.

Before proceeding to your next trip, check out our article on camping safety tips to enjoy your time with nature even more.

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About the author

Andrew McKay

Andrew McKay is a seasoned hunter and fisherman from Anchorage, Alaska. Andrew thinks that he is the luckiest person in the world, as he lives in the most gorgeous place in United States and does what he loves to do. As a member of Alaska Professional Hunters Association and International Hunter Education Association, he is always looking for the ways to improve his skills and to teach people around him.


  • One thing I can share about this is being selective of the wood to be used. There are some species whose smoke can suffocate you.

    • Indeed, you must consider the type of wood. It’s actually quite important so, knowing a bit about the area you are about to adventure to can prove extremely useful.

  • I have always been a go-to guy for anything in the woods, and from my experience, the most important tool is dry, lasting timber. Cedar bark is awesome and makes a good fire starter. But there are times, I can’t find good wood, some are damp. In such cases, I make a tee-pee rather than log cabin and sustain the ambient heat rather than direct heat.

  • Cedar bark are awesome fire starters and they smell good too. To get the best possible fire as quick as possible, try using softwood first and create a enough space in between pieces to let air through and quickly heat up the air for a hotter fire.

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